FP Interviews Formento + Formento

"The world is full of fictional characters looking for their stories."
–Diane Arbus
After consideration, this is the first time I am interviewing a husband and wife team on this normally female collective. The reason I chose to feature BJ and Richielle Formento is primarily because their subject matter is a pointedly American feminist narrative.

FP: Let's start at the beginning. Your work has a cinematic familiarity to it, and you've referenced Hitchcock, Edward Hopper and Cindy Sherman, all of whom use a sense of place and costume very characteristically in their work. I think there is a movement towards referencing the past both in photography and film; I see it in other current work (Alex Prager and Tom Ford come to mind) and I believe that it comes from an attraction towards glamour and stillness in response to the modern rapidity of visual information. I'd love for you to elaborate on this...

How did you come to develop this hyper-realistic enigmatic style? And what is it about the woman's story that specifically interests you?

BJ: Honestly, after working in the commercial field (read boring) for the last decade I wanted to hit the road and get back to the reason I got into photography in the first place.  I have always loved the 50's, anything vintage, I think in a previous life I were living in an Alexander home in Palm Springs! We wanted to have our heroine to be from this era dealing with current issues we are all faced with.
We wanted the sense of loss to be the protagonists main emotion. Loss of love, home, self and hopefully as the work progresses, we will show her in transition and eventually with closure. The Drama can be visually arresting. I love cinematic lighting and find such reward in getting to a location we have never scouted and making it all it can be.

R: For me, there has always been that love held for the past, a feeling that we missed a bygone era, a time when even the most depressing subject seemed romantic. Melancholy held a secret that we all wanted to know, and a window into the past was a window into a soul we wanted to connect with and understand as if it meant more then, than it does now.

FP: As a partnership, how do you work? How did the two of you meet? Who does what or is it all mutual?

BJ: I do the photography and lighting, I trawl the internet for models and then we both sit down and cast the girls.We both look through camera, it is a very fluid and cohesive synergy. I come to set with my concepts and Richeille has hers as well. We bounce ideas of each other 24/7. We are so lucky to be able to live and work together. It is a very rare thing indeed. I believe this kind of relationship either works or it doesn't, there is no gray area in between. It was in 2005, Richeille hired me to shoot a few collections in South Beach Miami baby! It was love at first sight! We traveled the world and have been inseparable since.

R: We have a weird silent understanding as partners in crime, it works as individuals and as a team.We both seem to know the others strengths and weaknesses and make up for that by bringing our A-Game at every shoot and idea session brewing. Our minds race with ideas and because we are together 24/7 we are always sound boarding. When I have ideas for a shoot, I instantly know how I want it to look and feel. Styling comes naturally and the overall look to the image with the post production is important, so that the initial idea is captured and encompasses all I had envisaged in my head. I love looking for locations, mixing ideas and reality, bringing team effort to the table and coming out the other side with an image we are excited with and proud of.

FP: How do you choose location and the narrative decided upon before you get started or is it influenced by it?

BJ: For the last 2 winters (starting in 2009) we have packed up our 27-ft Airstream trailer and run away from the bleeding NY winters.We look on the map and decide if we are to take the north or southern route to the west coast. Once we decide, we pick cities that offer good locations and models. In the first part of the trilogy we knew right away we wanted to show locales that represented the by gone era of glamorous America. This year we wanted to have the abandoned environment reflect the inner landscape of our heroine. That is the extent of the concept. The model brings her own emotions, the small town thrift stores where we get our styling dictates the look, married with our neurosis the images are born. I love how loose we are on set and just let the chemistry between myself, Richeille the model and the location speak.

R: We are very much influenced by a location when shooting. The initial idea or story will be set, but then it can organically grow depending on its surroundings. Most of the time it sets the mood and all the elements really begin to grow into the narrative, producing the final image like a story that has been building and eventually presenting its tale to be told.

FP: How often are you on the road and do you do all of your work on the road? Do specific locations start to influence you when you travel? Where do you call home?

BJ: We aim to leave NY around November and return in April. In the airstream is our Mac computers and hard drives. It is so amazing how convenient it is nowadays to create work. I started out in the heyday of darkrooms, developing trays and tanks. Don't get me wrong, I long for the smell of fresh fixers watching the image appear, the romance and magic of it all. But digital has come such a long way and to cozy up to each other after a shoot and edit the work has its own rewards.

R: Modern technology is a godsend for creating on the road! It's funny how we have a love for these old places, and revel in the romanticism of defunct towns, it's the ease of having so much on offer when traveling that really drives us to shoot. The longer we travel the more we shoot! You miss home, space, creature comforts, but you soon begin to have withdrawal from the love of spontaneity and intrigue that a new town and new people bring to the equation. Home is always there like a light at the end of the tunnel, you always long for it, miss it and love it, but once you have it, you start looking toward the next trip!

FP: Most of your women are in transitory states, appear in peril, or on the run. Can you comment on this theme of isolation and what it means to you?

BJ: For me I think it has to do with growing up a Military brat, our family moved so much that I went to a different school from kindergarden to high school, talk about transitory!? I wanted to create a body of work that everyone can relate to. We all have had our hearts broken, we all have been in a bewildered situation where love has fled or been pushed away.  With "Circumstance" I hope to stir the audiences' emotion of that place, to allow them to remember and to mourn.

R: I think somewhere in everyone's life there is a place we have been that represents isolation, fear, or wanting to be somewhere else. Its a reacuring theme because I think it connects with so many people in a lot of ways, either crossing over as an actual place, or representing a feeling we may have boxed away in our minds. I really like the idea that a viewer can relate to an image in some shape or form, even if it just plucks their heart strings for a moment, or makes them smile with a thought from a previous memory. I think it is very important that we never loose those memories and they always come back to haunt us to teach us lessons of life.

FP: You use such a mixture of lighting in each shot: how do you go about choosing/designing your lighting? Do you use traditional photographic lighting or take a more theatrical approach? Do you have any unique methods?

BJ: Good question! I always believed the photographer, the director and the model are the ingredients of a good photograph but the lighting is the music. I think that is what makes a great photograph. To orchestrate the lighting, to guide the viewers eye, to make the viewer interested and to make them think. For me it is pretty instinctual, I am not married to a certain technique or brand name, the camera and lighting are just tools. I always joke and say time to take the camera out and put it behind my eye as opposed to in front of it.  I use the existing ambient light, strobe, kino flos, tungsten and reflectors and try to get just the right balance. On the road, it is normally just Richeille and I, so it can get pretty hectic. We are also our own assistants!

R: Lighting really is the stage, the model and location can bring everything, but the moment you flick the switch its like turning on a lightbulb in a room you never witnessed before, your eye begins to wonder around and your senses heighten, creating a mood, illusion is what intrigues the viewer to wonder what is this story? What am I looking at? Without that its quite dead.

FP: What are you currently working on and do you have any upcoming shows/projects?

BJ/R: At the moment we are right in the heat of the 2nd part of the trilogy, shooting in abandoned, dilapidated, broken down locations. The story unfolds, and the work grows with the progression of the work. Part one really plays on the bygone era, but part two is more bout the internal conflict, part three will be about closure or resolution. It is getting harder and harder to scout these places but when we do find them we are like children in a eyecandy store! We just wrapped up a show in London with Beers Lambert but feel that the work needs to complete before we show it any further.  Later this year we are planning on shooting in Europe for the final entry in the "Circumstance" trilogy. Until then, please follow us on our blog and on twitter and facebook. Happy Trails!